With more than 64,000 schools closed (and counting) across the United States, an estimated 29.5 million public students will become homeschoolers temporarily while we wait and watch to see how the COVID-19 outbreak evolves. When schools in my area started announcing closures, I watched the social media frenzy of parents in my life looking for ideas for surviving weeks at home with their kids. With no clear indication of when they would be back in session, working parents filled my newsfeed with the same question: How will I keep my kids entertained and up-to-date on their schoolwork — all while working from home?
It is a question I've asked myself time and time again as a work-from-home mom who has been homeschooling for a few years now with my three kids. If you’re a parent facing the prospect of keeping up with your job and homeschooling at the same time, here’s what I’ve learned about making it work.
Give Yourself Time to Adjust
I’ve been working from home as a freelance writer for nearly six years now. We added in homeschooling three years ago when my oldest reached kindergarten, and today I'm teaching a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 3-year-old. I can honestly say that it took me trying a lot of things that didn’t work before I found what made our lifestyle manageable for the whole family. It’s going to take you some time, too.
A lot of kids are dealing with the stress of having their routines turned upside down. We’re all dealing with the uncertainty of how the next few weeks or months will play out. With so many changes and emotions at play, you can expect things to be a little rough at home for a time. If you don't have your routine perfected on Day 1, don't treat yourself too harshly.
Be realistic, not pessimistic. This can help you emotionally preparing for a rocky start. This realism, in my experience, is essential for keeping your cool when kids push back. Give yourself and your kids space and grace to adjust to your new lifestyle.
Create a Routine and Stick With It
Once you’ve had a minute to freak out about your life changing overnight, start working on creating a routine. When I first started homeschooling, I believed my free-sprited, go-with-the-flow personality was a strength, but I quickly learned my inconsistency was making our life harder.
There are so many schedules floating around online meant to help parents adjust to the world of homeschooling. Here’s the thing: I’m not really a proponent of schedules. It might seem like I’m splitting hairs, but it really is an important distinction. A schedule is rigid, but a routine orders your days with flexibility.
Once I created a routine and truly committed to it, our days changed completely. I stopped facing daily power struggles with my kids and we started enjoying our days at home because everyone knew what to expect.
Here's how it works for us: In our house, our days always start with breakfast and breakfast clean-up. After that, everyone gets ready for the day, makes their beds, and meets me downstairs for circle time, or what a lot of homeschool families call morning meeting. From there, my kids head outside to play and I tackle emails or start on a project. After 30 to 50 minutes, everyone comes inside and I start whatever school we have planned for the day with my second grader while my kindergartener does an activity. This lasts until lunch, which my second grader often makes while I work some more. After lunch, we have a mandatory quiet time that includes the younger two getting in their beds and my older child completing some independent work like reading, math practice, and knitting. I also work during this time.
By mid-afternoon, we’re done with “school work” and my kids usually have a social activity. Given that we’re social distancing, we’ve replaced that with mandatory outside time. Even though I faced some resistance at first, my kids really look forward to heading out back and playing in most types of weather. Plus, it gives me more quiet time to work.
Unconventional Choices Make It Work
Homeschooling and working at home is hard, especially as you’re first getting started. The only way we’ve managed to make it work well for our family is by being flexible and open-minded.
For example, I don’t ever work a schedule that looks like a typical 9 to 5. I’ve spent the last three years doing a lot of work on the weekends, while my husband is off. Can you get up early and work for a few hours while your kids are asleep? If you have a co-parent, could your partner take over in the late afternoon and take full responsibility for one or two subjects while you head off to your home office or bedroom? That type of flexibility will help you stay caught up.
Less Is More
Think about how your kids spend their time in a more conventional school setting. Are they really doing hours of academic work each day? Probably not. Take into account transitions from class to class, the time it takes a teacher to work with 20 kids versus one, and the time kids spend in recess, gym, and lunch.
Now, keep that same thing in mind any time you start to feel pressure for your kids to be doing school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. If possible, keep up with the expectations your school district has set, but don’t stress if you can’t. Your children will learn new things during this season, but it may look different than it has before and that is okay. Keep up with the basics, read a lot, and spend a lot of time outside if you can. We’re all doing the best we can in unusually difficult circumstances — and that’s going to be good enough.
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